• The ‘New’ Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don’t Hold Water?: A Refutation, Part 1


    I am at it again. I’ve set my sights on yet another Christian author who has published one more in a long line of books seeking to refute the New Atheists. This one is titled The ‘New’ Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don’t Hold Water?, by Michael Poole, published by Lion Hudson plc, 2009.

    I found this book to be poorly organized and the noted sources are a little difficult to understand at first, but other than that it is well written. The author has organized the arguments he will address by having each chapter devoted to a particular argument made by the New Atheists, which he designates as ‘A’ for “argument” or “assertion,” along with a corresponding number. It’s certainly a different format for a book like this, and is a little annoying, but those are my opinions about how the book is laid out. As for the arguments themselves, let’s find out…

    However, before I begin I’d like to thank John, also known as “Hendy,” who currently blogs at technologeekery, for accepting my invitation to proofread early drafts and for advice on grammar. Thanks a bunch John!

    Chapter 1: Un-natural selection or ‘Down with sex!’

    A1 Religion is evil because many bad deeds have been done by religious people.

    In this first chapter Poole disagrees with Richard Dawkins’ and Christopher Hitchens’ complaints about the many evil deeds done by religious people. However, I feel that Poole has erected a strawman of sorts. The New Atheists do not view the bad deeds done by religious people as the reason religion is bad, it is the beliefs themselves that cause many people to do bad things, hence the many examples they give in support of their argument.

    For example, in The God Delusion, Dawkins says,

    You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to ‘respect’ it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings. [1]

    Poole counters by arguing that the New Atheists should have given a more balanced treatment by citing the many good things religion has done, such as the “abolition of slavery,” “the starting and foundation of schools and hospitals,” etc. (11) I disagree with the first claim, but the second and third are closer to the truth. [2]

    My second complaint is that Daniel Dennett did provide several examples of religious people doing good things (and Poole even acknowledges this) so it’s not as if the New Atheism as a whole disregards the sometimes good things religion has done. They just seem to believe that the bad outweighs the good, and that is my opinion as well.

    He also complains about Hitchens’ subtitle: “Religion Poisons Everything,” which I believe is a poor argument since it’s obvious that it was worded in that manner to sell more books. Obviously Hitchens knows that religion has lead to some good things but, again, believes the bad outweighs the good. However, I do agree that the subtitle is an over exaggeration.

    I believe Poole has erected another strawman when referring to Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell. He wrties,

    The investigation of the functions served by religion – functionalism – is not, in principle, a threat to the truth-claims of religion. It is a partial, but valuable, study of one aspect of the behavior of individual and collective humankind. Given Dennett’s beliefs, he suggests

    The three favourite purposes or raisons d’etre for religion are

    to comfort us in our suffering and ally our fear of death

    to explain things we can’t otherwise explain

    to encourage group cooperation in the face of trials and enemies

    Religion serves these three functions, and why not? They say nothing about the truth or falsity of the beliefs themselves. (13-14)

    Dennett’s main purpose was not to investigate whether or not religion is true but the origins of religion. Even the chapter where Dennett is quoted is titled “The Roots of Religion.”

    In order to make his point about why such “argumentation is bad” he gives an example. He argues that “sex produces page after page of stories about broken promises, rape, adultery, promiscuity […]” and argues how illogical it would be to conclude that “sex is bad for you and sex poisons everything.” (15)

    The problem with this argument is that it’s based on a strawman as I’ve already explained so this argument is irrelevant. Even still, this argument is absurd since sex in and of itself is not a human activity that comes with certain beliefs which might influence behavior. Rather, it is the beliefs we often have about the inequality of women, or seeing women as purely sexual objects, that are often a cause of sex crimes, and not sex itself. Religion, on the other hand, does come packaged with certain beliefs that can cause immoral behavior.

    Finally, Poole tries the “They’re not a true Christian” defense against the numerous atrocities done by Christians or because of Christian beliefs. He writes,

    In short, [Jesus] is saying: if people don’t do (or try to do, since we are all fallible) what I teach, don’t believe them if they claim to have faith in me, and to be one of my followers. (16)

    Obviously, Christianity as its practiced today is much more than what Jesus preached and because there are so many varieties of beliefs within the religion of Christianity itself it’s absurd to argue that such and such person isn’t a true Christian if they don’t hold to your particular set of beliefs.

    1. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 306

    2. Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, by Hector Avalos, Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd., 2011

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist